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(PHOTOS) Bridge dedicated to Casper teacher, patriot on Veterans Day

Mary Sanchez talks with Wyoming Governor Mark Gordon after a bridge to the Oregon Trail State Veterans Cemetery was dedicated to Mary’s late husband, Leo Sanchez, on Friday, Nov. 11, in Evansville. Leo was a former Marine and longtime middle school teacher who was involved in fundraising and honoring veterans much of his life. (Dan Cepeda, Oil City News)

CASPER, Wyo. — For years, Casper teacher Leo Sanchez called an unnamed bridge linking the Oregon Trail State Veterans Cemetery to Evansville “Freedom Bridge.”

After today, that bridge officially has a name: The Leo R. Sanchez Freedom Bridge.

Family members, dignitaries and friends of Leo Sanchez snap photos and applaud as a bridge is dedicated to him on Veterans Day in Evansville. (Dan Cepeda, Oil City News)

Casper-born Leo Sanchez taught students at Dean Morgan Junior High School for 37 years before retiring in 2001. During that time, the U.S. Marine and Korean War veteran made it his mission to involve his students in dozens of community projects, including raising money to assist in funding for a kidney dialysis machine, a handicap-accessible city bus, and the Senior Center. He and his students also installed statues and memorials for veterans around the city, and lined the road with trees leading up to the Veterans Cemetery.

Mary Sanchez hugs her granddaughter Emily Eidsness before the bridge dedication for Leo Sanchez. (Dan Cepeda, Oil City News)

Leo, who died after a fall at his home in 2013, was married to his wife Mary for 49 years. She, along with their kids, grandkids and great-grandkids, gathered at the bridge for Veterans Day on a cold Friday morning for the naming ceremony.

His oldest son, Rick, was moved to tears upon seeing the plaque for the first time.

“It was the way dad brought us up,” he said. “Anytime I hear ‘Taps,’ anytime I hear the National Anthem, it touches me because of who he was and how he brought us up.”

Maria said Leo would be honored, but also humble at the dedication.

“He’d say, ‘I appreciate this, but let’s honor somebody who deserves this more than I do,'” she said. “He’d always do that for anything that points to him. He liked to stay in the shadows.”

Students from Excel Academy laugh together while waiting for the bridge dedication on Friday. (Dan Cepeda, Oil City News)
(Dan Cepeda, Oil City News)
Mary Sanchez is hugged by Sen. John Barrasso during a bridge dedication for Leo Sanchez on Friday. (Dan Cepeda, Oil City News)
Gov. Mark Gordon, Mary Sanchez and her sons unveil the plaque naming the bridge after Leo Sanchez during a dedication on Friday. (Dan Cepeda, Oil City News)
Richard Sanchez, oldest son of Leo and Mary Sanchez, tears up after the dedication on Friday morning. (Dan Cepeda, Oil City News)
(Dan Cepeda, Oil City News)
(Dan Cepeda, Oil City News)